It seems that many new personal finance blogs have cropped up over the last few weeks, and the bulk of them seem to be debt-related, as in, follow-me-on-my-journey-to-get-out-of-debt. The appearance of so many new sites is normal and to be expected in a “growth industry” like blogging, and I’m certainly not criticizing anyone for creating a blog, nor putting their financial situation out there for everyone to see. Because if it works for them, that’s great, in all sincerity.
I’ve written a bit before about how it appears (anecdotally) that blogs about being in debt seem to get more interest than ones doling out boring, heard-it-all-before advice. This is just human nature at work. But does it really pay to spend hours a day reading about other people who are in worse situations than you?
If you read about people with negative net worths just to feel better about yourself, then I think you’re missing the point. That’s voyeurism masked as commiseration. Your time would probably be better spent focusing on and doing something about your own financial situation rather than reading about those of other bloggers’.
Are you really seeking insight? Then look beyond this country’s borders. With an annual salary of $30K, you’re doing better than 92% of the rest of the world. At $50K, you’re in the 99th percentile.
Next, take a look at the stories that are being covered by journalist Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone. Really. Instead of spending two hours cruising around the blogosphere today, read a few of the reports he’s done on life in any of the hot spots he’s covering. My point isn’t to make you feel bad about yourself for having it good. Read on.
After spending an hour myself reading Sites’ coverage in Haiti a week ago, it dawned on me that people who are living not only in abject poverty but also in situations far more dangerous and traumatic than most of us will ever know still go forth with their faith in humanity intact, able to smile, able to hope, able to think good of the world. I’m not sure I could do the same, nor even survive, in their place.
If you’re reading this article, then your ability to truly adapt, adjust, and endure are probably not being tested like theirs is. Yes, we should count ourselves fortunate for being able to live this way, but we shouldn’t diminish their significance with our lack of trials and tribulations, either.
I was reminded of how different experiences lead to different reactions one day while in grad school. As part of our first week at Michigan, each section of our year spent a day volunteering in Detroit in various ways: packing food, tutoring kids, building houses, etc. Our section delivered food from a foodbank to elderly people who weren’t mobile enough to pick up the food themselves. I like volunteering and enjoy helping people, so I was surprised to hear some people were angry and complained about how we’d spent our time. A few even sat aside after delivering a few bags of food. Typical, capitalistic MBA behavior at work, right?
As it turns out, these people weren’t angry because we were volunteering. They were foreign students from Latin America, China, India, and they were frustrated because they saw perfectly healthy older people, most of whom could walk, who lived in decent apartment buildings with electricity, TV, and running water, getting handed perfectly good, free food. Why hadn’t our class pick a more needy group of people to help? In Latin America and Asia, there were plenty of people in worse situations. In a couple of cases, my classmates’ own families.
Having grown up in the US, I had no problem with what we did (helping locally, so to speak), but I couldn’t deny their point of view, either. Sometimes, there’s just as much perspective and insight to be gained from looking outwards as inwards.
The problem with being successful at personal finance is that the solution’s not sexy, nor is it new. It doesn’t, as the tagline of this site says clearly, require an advanced degree. It simply requires discipline. It’s boring, it attracts no readership, and so we spice it up with some personal woes. This is all fine, so long as we don’t forget where we stand in the world.